Expat Essentials

Audrey is (a)Broad: The cost of living in Germany is not as expensive as hyped

(Editor’s note: This post about the cost of living in Germany originally appeared on Audrey is (a)Broad. It’s reposted here with the permission of the author.)

Before I came to Europe, all I knew was it was impossible to see and experience because it was so cost prohibitive. Then I started looking up airfare. Then hotel prices. Then checking out tourist forums to see what daily budgets people had made for food. I couldn’t even imagine what the cost of living in Germany might be.

Then it hit me:

I sort of already definitely lived in a high-cost area (Washington, D.C.) so living abroad probably was going to be about the same.

So when I talk with people here, especially Americans not from the coasts, and the cost of living in Wiesbaden (and sometimes Europe in general) comes up, I am always surprised how expensive everyone thought or thinks living here is.

To me, this was a dream come true. My one-way ticket via Icelandair in February 2015 was 400 euros; a meal out + beer is roughly 11 euros. These were amazing deals to me. Since then, the past five years have been an experiment in living between currencies, and as long as the euro and dollar play nicely, I like to bank in dollars where I can. Going forward though, this relationship isn’t looking so great for the dollar so I’ve switched to euro banking almost exclusively.

I do understand Wiesbaden / Germany is more expensive than perhaps places from the midwest or south, but if you’re from a coastal city or some other costly area in the United States compared to income, read on for some numbers on what it’s like here.

Groceries: 150 – 250 euros

This amount is just my estimates for myself, and includes a mostly organic and free-range diet. Though I’ve eliminated meat from my diet at home by about 90 percent, this was the price with meat included. Also depends on how active on Pinterest I am that month.

Restaurants: 100 – 150 euros

Same as restaurants; this is my rough-ish cost on a very socially active month. I’m including the odd nights out just for a drink(s).

Rent (Kaltmiete): 800 euros

For more on what Cold vs. Warm rent is, click here. The website I linked in the intro says closer to 1200 euros; however I broke this down to show Nebenkosten separately below. This cost is for a one bedroom in Stadtmitte.

Nebenkosten: 200 euros

More on Nebenkosten.

• Utilities: 200 euros

Electricity (heating is electric or gas based mostly, but heating oil also exists somewhat commonly) is generally not paid for by the landlord, gas is sometimes not either.

Public Transport: 80 euros

The rough cost of a monthly RMV pass for Wiesbaden/Mainz.

Internet: 30 euros

Internet is fast in Germany, and if you’d like help picking a provider, try using Check24.

Mobile phone: 25 euros

This is a Telekom pre-paid plan, with 5GB per month I use and love.

More on phones here.

Gas: +/-110 euros

Gas is definitely more expensive than a lot of places in the States. The taxes here are higher. This cost assumes a 40-litre gas tank (common) filled twice.

Now, is this how every American / expat will experience it? And are these my total expenses every month? No, there will clearly be costs if you have children, shop a lot, go out a lot, etc. I also have expenses in America in dollars which I haven’t covered here, as they don’t affect my real cost of living. The numbers above though are what I believe one would experience here, if you were interested solely in the actual “cost of living in Germany” figures.

What other mandatory costs have I experienced?

Health insurance: 8.9 percent of pay

Mandatory pension: 8.9 percent of pay

Visas: roughly 50 – 100 euros per renewal

But not every time. I could not tell you what the pattern here is.

• Healthcare: by law no more than 10 euros in total per prescription medication, often times only 5 euros when using public health insurance. Hospital stays are covered, ambulance is 10 euros; doctor visits are free.

• TV / Radio / Internet Tax: 18.50 euros per month, with the option to pay quarterly for a discount, which I do. This turns out to be 52,50 euros per quarter.

Be aware: every household (not person) will be expected to pay this regardless if one is under the American government system or not. If you are under SOFA, you will need to find out how to apply for exemption.

“They” will come find you to collect this tax.

Some fun costs!

Not that it’s a ton of fun to spend money, but items in the “fun” category might be:

Sports teams: 300 euros per year for memberships

Museums: 10 euros for adults

Nurburgring: 25 – 30 euros per lap

• Castle visits: 6 euros to get into my favorite castle

• Bars: beers are usually around 3 – 4 euros, cocktails start around 8 euros, wine is between 4-10 euros per glass

Casino: 2.50 euros to get in, plenty of 5 euro and 10,00 euro minimum tables in Wiesbaden

Spas (Thermebads):

5 euros per hour in the summer

6.50 euros per hour in the winter

Hotels: 100 euros per night

Though I use Airbnb and generally find these to be better for the budget, but also more fun in general. This link will save you some money on your booking!

Random costs I found in my banking statements:​

Didn’t know how else to put these, but since I’ve paid for some of this in the States as well, here’s some other life costs for Germany:

Taxi from train station to city center: 10 – 12 euros

Train to airport from WI HBF: 4.55 euros

Shuttle from WI to FRA: 55 euros

Locksmith: 65 euros (this was a sad day spent sitting out in the cold)

Gym membership: 45 euros per month, a half yearly fee of approx. 45 euros, and usually a one-time registration fee of around 99 euros is also applied.

Speeding tickets: anywhere from 10 – 50 euros

• Parking tickets: 10 – 15 euros

Resident parking permit for street parking: 27 euros for two years

• Dry cleaning: 1 euro per shirt, 4 euros for a sweater, 8.50 euros for a suit

• Tailor: 20 euros for having a dress magically shrunk to my size, and it looked amazing when done.

Schufa report: 30 euros. This is a credit report for German customers.

Any advices?

Farmer’s markets can actually save one a bit of money here, vs the expensive artisanal experience back in the states (in more urban areas). They’re also fun to visit and pick out the exact amount of food you need.

Since COVID, German retailers are catching on to needing to accept more card and digital payments to keep up with the times. I’ve been able to use my phone to pay all summer in about 80 percent of the places I regularly visit (grocery store, bakery, and that’s it. #pandemiclife) and I am anticipating this will continue on in the future.

There have been a few forum posts and news articles that pop up describing the uptick in useage, but will older generations pick this up too? Unknown.

I’m guessing no.

About the author:

Audrey Shankles is an American who moved to Germany, and who writes about how that’s going at www.a-broad.com. She comes from the Washington DC region in the United States and has been in Germany for more than five years. While she misses the Nats, the Caps and brunches along the Potomac, she’s fallen in love with the Rheingau, 3 euro beers, and taking the train everywhere. 

Audrey has held a multitude of jobs and explored numerous careers and fancies herself a “person who does things with people she likes.” When writing, she focuses on helping people understand their appliances and recipes in German, posts her personal thoughts about living abroad and her failures at integrating into German society.

See all of Audrey’s Dispatches posts here.

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